3 Things We Absolutely Loved About 'All of Us Are Dead'
Go ahead, stream it. If anything, don't worry, because not all of them are dead. Spoilers ahead!
Note: Spoilers ahead!
In an alternate universe, Netflix’s latest Korean zombie offering, All of Us Are Dead, could be your usual teen K-drama. Hyosan High School is painted as “animated and bright at first,” as emphasized by director Lee JQ, making it a plausible setting for a coming-of-age narrative. After all, the main characters are students (among which there are eye candies), who are going through the familiar stories of falling in love, getting friendzoned, building friendships, and sadly, experiencing bullying or discrimination by their classmates.
The stereotypical students一the brainy, the heartthrob, the average girl- and boy-next-door types, the poor girl/boy, and the bully一are well represented. The formulaic love triangle/quadrangle also gets a significant amount of airtime, featuring Lee Cheong-san (Yoon Chan-young), Nam On-jo (Park Ji-hoo), Choi Nam-ra (Choi Yi-hyun), and Lee Su-hyeok (Park Solomon); it’s a welcome palate cleanser to whet your appetite and savor despite the bloody, stomach-churning visual feast. But scrap the slice-of-life, as what we have here is a school overrun by zombies, and what you essentially get are scenes that will scare the life out of you.
“We see many films about zombies, but only a few have students as main characters. In an enclosed place like a school where teenagers are clustered, they have to survive on their own. They have to run away from friends becoming zombies. These aspects can make this show different from other zombie films and make it interesting and fresh,” Lee JQ said.
One can argue that the series, which is two years in the making, follows in the footsteps of or is in the same realm as Squid Game, Hellbound, or even Happiness, but with elements reminiscent of the school-based Battle Royale, All of Us Are Dead takes on a life of its own.
The first scene in episode 1 shows the harsh reality some students face: bullying and violence, where the strong pick on the weak. We see a student, Lee Jin-su (Lee Min-goo), getting beaten up by two bullies while he noticeably tries to fight back as he mysteriously turns rabid, in a scene dramatically executed on a rooftop on a rainy night; the bullied student ends up falling off the building and getting hospitalized. It turns out Jin-su is the son of Lee Byeong-chan (Kim Byung-chul), a Hyosan High School science teacher who’s the mastermind behind the virus; Lee Byeong-chan’s lab hamster accidentally bites a female student, Kim Hyun-joo (Jung Yi-seo), from whom the virus starts spreading in the campus. Suddenly, the school becomes ground zero for a zombie outbreak that eventually spreads all over the town.
All of Us Are Dead is based on the Naver webtoon, Now at Our School, by Joo Dong-keon, which was published between 2009 and 2011. Its story gets recreated into a 12-episode Netflix series that balances thrill, action, drama, social commentary, and even a hint of romance.
Below, we list down the top three things we loved about All of Us Are Dead, which has now soared to the Netflix Top 10 list in 91 countries and is currently at the no. 1 spot in the daily Top 10 TV shows in the Philippines:
The cast members and their characters
Most of the cast members are rookies, a casting decision consciously made by the production team to make the scenes look as real as possible to viewers. “We wanted faces unfamiliar to the audience for the roles, which can be more appealing and more fun to watch,” shared Lee JQ.
The young actors一those that end up surviving and even those that turn into zombies一deserve credit for their portrayals. You get scared and frustrated with them, but you also turn emotional with them every time the inevitable happens and they’re forced to say goodbye to a family member or friend who has become one of the undead. It would’ve been a pain to endure 12 episodes of this school mayhem if the actors aren’t believable. In particular, Yoo In-soo as Yoon Gwi-nam, a bully’s minion who transforms into the series’ main villain, showed such impressive depth in acting. Yoon Chan-young as Lee Cheong-san also shone as the series’ unassuming, unsung hero.
The main cast is composed of several students, but each of them gets their moment in a manner that’s not forced to fit into the storytelling. Sure, some of the characters and their decisions may have been questionable, but lest we forget they’re stuck in school (and abandoned by rescuers, at that!) in an unprecedented situation, it’s easy to understand how their plans aren’t exactly calculated, seamless, or foolproof. Given the resources they have at their disposal, the characters are pretty quick to think on their feet. Besides, a zombie survival guide can’t really walk you through how to react in a face-to-face encounter with fast, strong, hard-to-kill, and “hangry” zombies.
The young actors attended workshops after casting, allowing them to bond and easily recreate that friendly rapport on the set. “What we most took into account was realness as well as chemistry among actors,” Lee JQ noted. This chemistry is seen and felt even in the seemingly unlikely friendship of Lee Cheong-san (an ordinary student who comes off as slow and weak) and Lee Su-hyeok (a campus cutie who used to hang out with the bullies).
The actors whose characters turn into zombies learned zombie choreography, and the effort was worth it because the movements of the zombies are crucial to make this kind of portrayal effective. And All of Us Are Dead has a lot of those acrobatic, contortionist, walking-on-hand/feet-backwards, “Thriller”-esque movements, which were executed well.
Still in line with the goal of a realistic output, some of the actors were also filmed using many one-takes and long takes in the beginning, in order to make the scenes come alive organically rather than overly rehearsed. Lee JQ cited a scene where they used this technique: “I’m talking about a scene where zombies come into the cafeteria after the virus spreads all over. Zombies attack the area where 200 students gathered. We shot that scene in one take. So rehearsing was everything. Hundreds of crew and actors spent the whole day rehearsing it. In fact, how the actors acted and reacted changed the whole storyboard. All the cameras did was try to capture how the kids reacted.” And again, part of the credit goes to the talented cast for pulling off both physically strenuous and emotionally draining scenes.
Staying true to a classic zombie piece, All of Us Are Dead didn’t scrimp on the gore, which is why it received the maturity rating of 18+. Lee JQ shared, “There are cruel and violent scenes but we thought these would be necessary in order to stay true to the zombie genre.” The cameras didn’t avoid the nose-bleeding, skin-ripping, flesh-tearing, and blood-spewing action. The production team’s decision to use a green vest for the uniform also worked well in highlighting all the intensity of the blood’s color.
When it comes to horror or zombie films and series, death scenes are everything. The more creative, gruesome, and disgusting they are, the better. Though not entirely inventive, zombie fans will appreciate the gut-wrenching scenes here.
Our favorites are the scenes where Park Mi-jin (Lee Eun-saem) breaks a mop, resulting in a sharpened edge on its wooden handle, and shoves it right into the mouth of her friend who’s trying to attack her; the camera shifts from a side to a back angle to show the handle as it pierces through the student’s head and gets stuck there as their push-and-pull battle in the restroom continues.
Another one is the library scene where Lee Cheong-san and Yoon Gwi-nam were fighting, jumping from shelf to shelf. Lee Cheong-san then pokes Yoon Gwin-nam’s left eye hard with the edge of a cell phone and pushes him off the top of the shelf for a throng of zombies to devour.
It was a highlight, too, when Min Eun-ji (Oh Hye-soo), one of the students who’s a victim of bullying, finds one of her professors hiding in a room; she tells him she’s starving, moves over to the aquarium to munch on a goldfish, and eventually hopes to satiate her hunger by attacking the professor (who previously insulted her for being an outcast) and sinking her teeth into his belly. The scene that follows shows the professor lying on the floor, shaking, with his intestines out and Min Eun-ji puking on the side.
The sound effects
Sound effects are likewise crucial in enhancing the viewing experience of a horror or zombie film or series. In All of Us Are Dead, there’s a generous serving of snarling, growling, munching, and bone crunching//cracking sounds. These complement and elevate the visuals very well.
“This show displays a variety of detailed sounds because it deals with zombies,” Lee JQ shared. “So turn the volume up and watch it louder than usual. Then you’ll enjoy it more.”
With some characters having sensitivity to sound as a result of getting infected by the virus, there was further emphasis placed on sound effects, in which even the sound of a goldfish peacefully swimming in the aquarium becomes a prelude to a death scene.
Overall, while viewers may be left with questions unanswered toward the last episode, (perhaps on why some infected individuals can still think and act normally and only transform when the need arises), All of Us Are Dead was an enjoyable treat for zombie and K-entertainment fans alike.
With the good feedback the show has been receiving and its global success, there’s clamor for a second season where, hopefully, viewers can finally get the explanations they need in a packed series that is better paced.
All of Us Are Dead is available for streaming on Netflix.